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30 May, 2024
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Nairobi's Royal Birds - Article by Gareth Jones

Nairobi’s Royal Birds – Article by Gareth Jones


We slowly approached a treed area where there was a dam with reeds. As we sat quietly waiting, a family of grey crowned cranes emerged from the long grass and walked along the edge of the dam, while feeding on aquatic snacks. It was particularly delightful to see that the chicks were still very small and the parent cranes both went to considerable effort to feed them delicious little morsels. Then I thought how amazing it is that these tiny golden brown “fluff-balls” eventually grow much larger and transform into such regal cranes with splendid golden crowns and magnificent markings. We are truly blessed in that the Nairobi National Park has a stable population of these royal cranes, that are rare in many parts of Africa. I have had occasions in previous years when flocks of as many as 50 grey crowned cranes gather together in the park, this social behavior normally takes place outside of breeding season, and could be an ideal opportunity for single young birds to find a life mate.

A few years ago I observed a pair of grey crowned cranes for many weeks, first they made a nest in the middle of a dam, and then nursed a batch of eggs in the nest. Every day I waited in anticipation to see if there were any new born chicks. Eventually 3 chicks hatched, but the cranes were very protective and kept them covered for some time. Then one fine morning I found the entire family out of the nest and the parents were introducing the royal chicks to succulent aquatic snacks as they hunted. I watched as the parents repeatedly and patiently, gently shared their prey with the chicks. Looking at the tiny fluff-balls their physical appearance did not have any resemblance to their regal parents, yet with each breeding season an amazing transformation happens as the tiny plain looking chicks change into magnificent grey crowned cranes. Their beauty and elegance has a definite feel of feathered royalty, and some nations, like Uganda have even declared them as their national bird.

On another occasion we arrived at a dam near the Athi basin and quietly observed what was happening around us. We witnessed a mother grey crowned crane protect her 3 tiny chicks. A flock of at least 50 Marabou storks were standing around the dam, but one larger aggressive marabou decided to try and get a few quick snacks, by walking boldly towards the 3 tiny chicks…but “Mama” crane was in no mood to stand back, in a very aggressive attack, making ordinary “kung-fu” look mild, she launched herself at the huge marabou, naturally the massive marabou beak was way out of her league in a “beak to beak” fight, so she chose to use her lethal talons to attack, totally surprising the invader by repeatedly attacking until the marabou retreated. The rest of the marabou flock stood still as if in silent awe at the daring actions of this brave mother. Then “Daddy” crane calmly rounded up the 3 tiny chicks, and the family walked away into the protection of the nearby reeds. It is often said that in the harsh natural world it is “Survival of the fittest” that counts, indeed they had survived another day!

A few years ago we observed a large flock of approximately 40 cranes walking through the long grass as they approached a clearing. They looked magnificent together in the late afternoon sun, indeed it is rare to see so many cranes gathered together at the same place. I imagined they were the delegates for the “ annual crane conference” with the main agenda to discuss challenges and threats to their lives due to the rapid advancement of mankind. They seemed to be in deep discussion as they walked with many also seemingly agreeing with the occasional “mahem” sound given almost in unison. The Ugandan representatives were in agreement on most issues, but still insisted on being called Crested Cranes due to their elevated National status, and proposed that the other cranes in Kenya and elsewhere find ways to get caring humans to elevate their status as well. All too soon it appeared the meeting was over, and they all took off together in search of “greener pastures”. What a fantastic sight to see, as crested cranes are magnificently created birds, and have a sort of royal appeal to them with their golden crowns and markings.

The grey crowned crane (balearica regulorum) has 2 sub species, balearica regulorum gibbericeps in East Africa, also known as the crested crane in Uganda, and balearica regulorum regulorum in South Africa with slightly different markings mainly on the red part of the face. The rarer Black Crowned Crane is also closely related to the Grey Craned Crane.

Seeing Crowned Cranes in the wild is always wonderfully rewarding, as their colours are beautiful and they are interesting to watch. They have a varied diet ranging from grass seeds to insects and lizards and small rodents. Cranes are endangered in many areas, but thank God the Park is a safe breeding haven with a healthy population. It is important that as many dams and water collection points as possible are maintained to ensure, that healthy population continues in the future.

Let’s hope and pray that these royal cranes will always grace Nairobi National Park .

The park is open daily from 06h00 to 19h00.



Gareth JonesGareth Jones – Nairobi Park Dairy – A passionate writer & photographer